Monday, December 19, 2011

The Plumbing of Genre, RIP Russell Hoban and other miscellany

My thoughts are all over the place this week so here are some things that have been on my mind. Maybe they will get expanded on later maybe not.

1) The Wire has ruined the police procedural on TV for me. Whether The Wire is realistic or not isn't the point but it achieved a level of verisimilitude that other cop shows don't. David Simon once said “fuck the average reader” and what The Wire demands of the viewer bears this philosophy out. That's because, if you look under the hood, these other cop shows, ostensibly set in the real world, are actually fantasies.

Some say that genre is an artificial construct created my marketing departments. Maybe.

Here's what I know. The surface genre of a story isn't always readily apparent.

I watch these other cop shows and gnash my teeth and rend my garments and laugh like they are sitcoms every time:

-they break a suspect in the box in like 30 seconds
-they are able to use a missing persons cell phone data to determine their location without having to get a warrant for that info
-they never show the process of getting a warrant before taking a door
-they make The Promise. You know, “I promise we'll get the guy who did this”, Horatio intoned gruffly while standing sideways before putting his sunglasses on and walking away. I hate The Promise. I'm thinking about editing an anthology called The Promise where every story has a cop making The Promise before it all goes horribly wrong.
-a suspect, especially affluent ones, never lawyer up

The Wire, at it's core, is a realistic show. The CSI's and other procedural are, at their cores, fantasies. It's not as outlandish a premise as you might initially think if you take the time to look under the hood of the story.

There's more to say so I'm going to leave two exhibits as food for thought.

Exhibit A: A paragraph that Chuck Klosterman wrote:

"Take, for example, Road House. This is a movie I love. But I don't love it because it's bad; I love it because it's interesting. Outside the genre of sci-fi, I can't think of any film less plausible than Road House. Every element of the story is wholly preposterous: the idea of Swayze being a nationally famous bouncer (with a degree in philosophy), the concept of such a superviolent bar having such an attractive clientele, the likelihood of a tiny Kansas town having such a sophisticated hospital, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Every single scene includes at least one detail that could never happen in real life. So does that make Road House bad? No. It makes Road House perfect. Because Road House exists in a parallel reality that is more fanciful (and more watchable) than The Lord of the Rings. The characters in Road House live within the mythology of rural legend while grappling with exaggerated moral dilemmas and neoclassical archetypes. I don't feel guilty for liking any of that. Road House also includes a monster truck. I don't feel guilty for liking that, either."

Exhibit B: a fascinating scan of an article from New Frontiers magazine from 1959 called "Can We Live Without Fantasy Fiction"? that illustrates that fantasy then is not the same as fantasy now.

2)It's been a hell of a week for deaths. Russell Hoban, one of my favorite writers, died at the age of 86. Hoban was the rare writer that you could grow with and read for your entire life. He was the author of the famous Francis the Badger children's books. He penned the classic book for older children (and adults) The Mouse and His Child, as moving and deep a book as has ever been written. He then went on to write novels for adults including Turtle Island and Riddly Walker. He stayed prolific, playful and imaginative until the end and we are now less for not having him with us.

3)I think this video is a great example of an unreliable narrator in a first person POV story

4)When we talk about book pricing and the changing landscape of of the publishing industry we often do so while in a bubble. We rarely take into account data and opinions from sources as far ranging as possible. With how inter-connected things are the conversation is lesser for not doing so. We should take into account things like this:

“It’s well established that when housing prices go up people feel richer and spend more: the rule of thumb is that they spend between five and seven per cent of the increase in housing wealth. But when housing prices go down people cut their spending by the same amount in response. Between 2006 and 2011, American homeowners saw the value of their homes drop by seven trillion dollars or so. That means that—even if consumers had no debt at all—we’d expect a dropoff in consumption of about four hundred billion dollars.”

That's a staggering figure that will and has affected discretionary spending.

5)And just because:

But though similar disasters, however little bruited ashore, were by no means unusual in the fishery; yet, in most instances, such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent.

Currently reading: Already Gone by John Rector, Osama by Lavie Tidhar, Drawing Dead by JJ DeCeglie.

Currently listening: Amy Winehouse and Peter Tosh.


Dana King said...

JUSTIFIED is the only cop show I can bear to watch since THE WIRE, and even that requires a partial ROAD HOUSE disclaimer. (No government agency would ever let Raylan Givens run around loose, or carry a gun. Well, maybe the military. Maybe.)

ROAD HGUSE is my favorite Patrick Swayze movie, and you hit why right on the head. It's an alternate reality that looks a lot like ours. We feel comfortable there because its similar enough, and even more so because it's different enough. It's like watching a video game.

I didn't consider the video's "narrator" to be unreliable. I had a suspicion it might be a guy when I saw the look on the mother's face. It's odd. I know I'm older than you, but I have quite a few gay friends, several of whom are married. I realized halfway through something about me must have changed, because by the time I had figured out this was a lover's perspective, I didn't assume it was a woman.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I haven't watched Justified yet. It's not because I don't want to just that I haven't yet.

A friend of mine had his partner die unexpectedly this past year. Late 40's, was in good shape, went to bed and never woke up. They were together for 20 years and it's a god damned shame that they weren't able to get married.

I think what I was trying to point out with the video was the idea of holding something back from the narrative told from the first person that has an effect when finally revealed.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I should also say that I love Prime Suspect because it seems to have a bit less of a focus on the solving of the crime (though that does occur) and more on the interaction of the detectives.

Scott D. Parker said...

Okay, so you quoted CSI: Miami so I have to respond. And I'll start by quoting from the pilot. One of the characters explicitly stated that "we do things more fanciful down here." I, too, enjoyed The Wire, but I enjoy CSI: Miami and Castle and Body of Proof. No, they are not The Wire, but they don't try to be. They are fanciful in their own ways. Sure, CSI: Miami is cut more from the Standard Cop Story repertoire, but I still enjoy the heck out of it. And, yes, Caruso is one of the big reasons for it. But I also love Dominic West, too.

Al Tucher said...

My own favorite Russell Hoban novel is Kleinzeit. It's a small masterpiece.

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